The setting of the novel The Ten Weeks was exactly forty years ago. This is one of a series of excerpts from the novel, one for each week (except for Weeks Two and Three, which were combined).
She looked over at her desk again; next to the Bible was a photo of a younger Madeleine in a very colourful djellaba that covered her from head to toe.
“Is that you?” Carla asked. “You look like you’re in our church’s Christmas play.”
“We were living in Morocco at the time,” Madeleine explained. “My Moroccan friends and their parents put me up to it. They though it was amusing that a French girl would dress like one of them.”
“Now, I get lost—where all have you lived, Madeleine?”
Madeleine was the one who had to think things out now. “Let me start from the beginning. When I was born, we were living in what is now South Vietnam.”
“I have a cousin who’s over there now,” Carla said. “He’s in the American army. He was drafted.”
“It seems that this place has not been good for France or the U.S.,” Madeleine observed. “We returned to France shortly after I was baptised. When I was five, we moved to Morocco. It was my favourite place to live. I enjoyed the climate, and the people were very kind. They were almost all Muslims, and their religion is in some ways like yours—austere, and of course they are forbidden to drink alcohol. When I left, one of my friends—whose father was a prominent imam—gave me this,” and she showed her a green book with Arabic writing on it.
“What is it?” Carla asked.
“It is a copy of the Qur’an,” Madeleine replied. “It is the holy book of the Muslims.”
“Can you read it?”
“My Arabic isn’t what it used to be, but yes, I can. It is a very difficult book to understand. I got to use my Arabic last year when a representative from the Palestine Liberation Organisation visited our school. He found me hard to follow, because the Arabic spoken in Morocco is different from that in Palestine, especially with a French accent.”
“Kind of like my sister-in-law from Georgia,” Carla noted.
“To some extent,” Madeleine replied with a smile. “After that, we moved to Canada, to Calgary, Alberta. That is where I learned to speak English properly. But Calgary is very cold, and I did not like the climate. After that we moved to South Carolina in the United States for one year. We lived in the same town you are going to university at, but I went away to school in Charleston. It is a very nice city, and of course much warmer than Canada. Finally we came here, but by that time we decided that it was better for Raymond to go away to school, so I stayed at Point Collina.”
“Wow,” Carla said. “I’ve always been impressed with the way you’ve moved all over the world.”
“But it is difficult to keep your friends when moving,” Madeleine observed. “Only my Moroccan friends write me any more. Some of them are going to France to university, so I may be able to see them when I am in Belgium.”
“Sorry this country hasn’t worked out any better for you than it has,” Carla said apologetically.
“I don’t understand it,” Madeleine confessed. “They want to be so progressive, so left-wing, but someone comes to them with some real experience in the world, they don’t know what to do with them, and waste their time trying to mould them to their own idea. That is why I like you—you are yourself, you are not trying to be someone else. You have your life and you have your beliefs and you live them. And,” Madeleine added, “I have never seen anyone whose tennis game has improved with less instruction and less time than yours.”
“Thanks,” Carla replied.
“Oh, there is something I would like to show you.” Madeleine got up and opened her closet, and pulled out a little some very interesting outfits, including a Moroccan one similar to the one in the photo. “These are the outfits that I wear to help teach the children French. They come from all over the Francophone world. I must confess that I enjoy wearing them as much as the children like seeing me in them.”
Carla was wide-eyed at the fashion in front of her. “Don’t we wear the same size?” Carla asked excitedly.
“As a practical matter, yes,” Madeleine replied.
“Can I try them on to see how I look?”
“Of course.” Carla started to undress, but stopped. She looked at her hands and arms.
“I’m too dirty to get into those,” Carla said sadly.
“Then you must take a shower first,” Madeleine declared. Carla had the reputation at Hallett Comprehensive of being the girl who could get ready for a date the fastest, and she showed that speed at the des Cieux house. It was no time before she was trying on Madeleine’s clothes, looking at herself in the full-length mirror, and both of them laughing the afternoon away.
Carla finally got to the pièce de resistance—Madeleine’s djellaba. As she adjusted the hood, the girls suddenly realised they had an audience. They looked over towards the doorway to see Pierre and Yveline standing, almost as astonished as Carla was when she first came into the room.
“This will be impossible to explain,” Pierre observed. “A Uranan Baptist girl visits a French Catholic one and ends up a Muslim.”
“We were just having fun, Papa,” was Madeleine’s excuse.